Rare white buffalo ‘Baby’ graced Sarff’s Avon bison ranch for all-too-brief time

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
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Baby, a rare white buffalo calf, was born at Steve and Carol Sarff’s Countryside Buffalo Ranch near Avon, July 4. She took a bad turn on the evening of July 18 and died 36 hours later. She is pictured above with her mother.

Baby, a rare white buffalo, was born July 4 on the Steve and Carol Sarff’s Countryside Buffalo Ranch in Avon. White buffalo are considered sacred by many American Indian tribes for their potential to bring good fortune and peace.

White buffalo are rare, occurring in possibly one birth out of 10 million, according to the National Bison Association.

A female calf was born in 1994 in Wisconsin, thought to be the first white buffalo born in more than 60 years. In 1996 in North Dakota, a calf named White Cloud was born. She, then, had a white calf in 2007, part of a herd at the North Dakota Buffalo Museum in Jamestown. There are currently 14 white buffalo in a herd in Flagstaff, Ariz.

When Baby was born, the Sarffs thought how different her light color was and took many photos. Steve called the Minnesota Buffalo Association in Winona, which confirmed this conclusion.

When doing Internet research, Steve found that a white bison calf was killed and skinned in Texas earlier this year, and the mother was poisoned. Not wanting that to happen to Baby, the Sarffs said little about Baby to anyone.

They then read about another white calf in Connecticut who will be named in a Native American ceremony this month, and Steve contacted three to four different tribes. Even after e-mailing several photos to each, the response was neither what he hoped for nor expected.

“One tribe said they didn’t have the money to come look at her, and the others never responded at all,” he said. “These are considered to be sacred
animals; I thought the tribes would at least want to take a look at the calf.”

He contacted the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and left a message, but no one there got back to him until after Baby had died.

At two weeks old, Baby showed a pronounced limp Wednesday, July 18. “Her back leg didn’t look right,” Steve said.

So Thursday the Sarffs put Baby in the barn where she would be better protected and the vet came to see her. By that time, Baby could no longer stand.

“We bought special formula for her and fed her four times on Thursday, but found her dead when we went out Friday morning,” Steve said.

“We were so excited by (Baby’s birth) — a once-in-a-lifetime event — and it is very disappointing and sad, but a thing like this does happen,” said Carol.

“We thought this was really special and in the blink of an eye it was taken away,” Steve said. “We are very disappointed.”

After Baby’s passing, the Sarffs called friends who have raised buffalo for many years and they were advised that when a white calf is born into a herd, it can either be very protected or else rejected.

“There have been so many flies around that it’s also possible her mother may have inadvertently kicked Baby,” Steve said.

After contacting half a dozen taxidermy shops, Steve has made plans to take Baby to a taxidermist in northern Minnesota, where she will be mounted and put in a glass case.

He anticipates needing to take out a loan to have this done, as it will cost about $2,500.

“It will take anywhere from 12-14 months for the taxidermy process to be done,” Steve said. “Now we’re looking for a museum which will accept Baby. It would be nice to be
reimbursed for the taxidermy and other costs.”

The Sarffs have been raising buffalo since 2003. “We got them after I had a heart attack and had to cut way down on beef,” Steve said. “Buffalo meat is not marbled with fat and I can eat all the buffalo I want.”

“I do have to chuckle a little bit, though,” Steve said. “Last summer I was going to sell a bunch of heifers, and Baby’s mother was one of them.”